Meles Zenawi (57), Ethiopia’s Prime Minister since 1995, died on Monday night after a protracted battle with an undisclosed illness in a hospital in Brussels, state-owned ETV reported on Tuesday.
At a press conference, government spokesperson Bereket Simon said Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn would head a transitional government while the ruling party chooses Mr. Meles successor, adding that the Constitution allowed his government to appoint a successor without holding elections.
On Tuesday, the capital city of Addis Ababa was calm as state television broadcast archival footage, interviews, and photographs of Mr. Meles, often accompanied by funereal music. Government offices continued to function.
Mr. Meles’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front seized power in 1991 following the collapse of the dictatorship of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. He headed the transitional government and won elections in 1995, 2000, 2005 and most recently in 2010, in a landslide election whose validity was questioned by Western observers and human rights groups.
Mr. Meles is credited with resurrecting the ruined economy he inherited in 1991. In the last seven years, the economy has grown by an average 11 per cent annually due to investments in agriculture and infrastructure.
He also forged closer trade ties with India, Turkey and China and supported U.S. military operations in strife-torn Somalia.
Yet his government was also criticised by rights groups for cracking down on internal dissent, targeting journalists and political activists perceived to be critical of his regime, and for opening sensitive sector like agriculture to foreign investment.